School Board President Blames Charter Schools For Pre-K Enrollment Decline

School board president Ed Potosnak blames growing payments to charter schools for the budget problems that forced the district to charge for its pre-K program, and the resultant decline in the program’s enrollment enrollment.

The school district’s pre-K program did not meet enrollment estimates this year, a fact the school board president blames on the township’s two charter schools.

Board of Education president Ed Potosnak said that the increasing amount of money that the district has to send to the township’s charter schools forced the board to start charging for pre-K this year. The change to charging tuition, he said, led to an enrollment of about 50 fewer students than anticipated.

Full-day pre-K had been free since the district started offering it. But the school board last year decided to charge $5,900 per year for the program because of growing interest.

It was that growing popularity, Potosnak said, that led the school board to the decision to start charging.

“We had more people requesting, and we couldn’t accommodate all the folks who wanted to have pre-K,” he said. “We did need to look at means of expanding it, but to expand it, you would need to take money from somewhere else or have money available.”

“At the time, we didn’t get into pointing fingers about why the money wasn’t available, we just looked at the budget,” Potosnak said. “One of the solutions, and the one we ultimately went with, was charging a very competitive rate with busing, and for (families eligible for free- and reduced-lunch), providing it at no cost.”

“What we saw happen was, we didn’t get as many” students, he said. “We don’t have the funds at this time to invest in that program to make it free again because of increasing charter school payments. The budget has strained significantly because of rapid growth of tuition to charter schools.”

According to the adjusted 2016-17 district budget authorized at the board’s Jan. 26 meeting, the pre-K program’s budget was reduced by $564,403, from $2.8 million to $2.2 million. The reduction was partly necessitated by a loss of nearly $179,000 in the anticipated revenue from tuition, from $590,000 to $411,230.

There was also a $385,633 reduction in the amount of money from the budget’s general fund that was to be pumped into the pre-K program, from $455,221 to $69,588.

The district was able to save $462,496 in the costs of teachers and para-professional aides who would not be needed.

Potosnak said more cuts in district programs could be on the horizon.

“We’re sort of at a tipping point,” he said. “What we saw with the pre-K was just the beginning of what could be some significant reductions or changes to what we’re providing in the district.”

Potosnak said some parents, when faced with the $5,900 bill, opted to go to private pre-K programs because they offer longer days to accommodate working parents.

He said that the district is looking into being able to provide that service as well.

“That may make a difference for some people,” he said. “They won’t need to pay an outside agency to take care of their kids before they get home from work.”


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